The excitement starts to build from several blocks away when we see family after family with little girls in red velvet dresses, white tights, shiny black shoes, and red ribbons in their hair. The sidewalks are slippery as everyone streams towards Bethlehem United Church of Christ on Fourth Avenue near William for the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Sing Along with Santa,” which returns on Saturday, December 12.

There is nothing in this world that I love better than singing Christmas carols with a beautiful man–even if that man is wearing a big red suit! All pretenses of secular Ann Arbor-ness fall away as we walk into the warm and glittering church, all decorated with lights and bows, the tree gorgeous and reaching towards the ceiling. The pews are packed with families and cute, cute children.

Local radio personality Lucy Ann Lance, with her signature blond curls piled on top of her head, starts off the celebration by talking about how Christmas is celebrated around the world. We start singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” but the singing suddenly becomes disjointed as whole sections simply stop in their tracks and gasp, “It’s Santa!” as Santa (former A2SO staff member Charley Sullivan) walks in, singing in a beautiful bearded baritone.

I half expect the whole Ann Arbor Symphony to be here today, but I am not disappointed when bassist Erin Zurbuchen and erhu player Xiao Dong Wei take the stage in their matching red Santa hats. Ms. Wei’s long bare arm is mesmerizing as it bows back and forth an elegant “Feliz Navidad” on her two-stringed Chinese fiddle, complemented perfectly by the enormous bass. Together they traverse east and west, with Mongolian horses galloping to see “Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

After we sing a few more carols, Santa calls all the children to the front of the church and reads ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. The Ann Arbor Youth Chorale sings a perfectly harmonized “Silent Night.” Then we are all divided into twelve sections, and off we embark on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with the Five Golden Rings really hamming it up.

Afterwards, everyone goes down to the basement for cider, cookies, and photos with Santa. So that’s why everyone is so dressed up! The only way I can convince my surly preteens to indulge me and take a family picture with Santa, however, is to pay each one $5. Other parents with much younger children look at me aghast. As the Indonesian angklung ensemble performs, Little Brother finally gets his chance to ask Santa, “Do you like mochi?” (the Japanese sweet we leave him each year) and “How do you get into houses with no chimney?” Santa has the answer: “Through the rice cooker, of course!”